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Restaurants are subject to premises liability laws in Chicago. This means they have a duty to customers to exercise reasonable care to keep patrons safe. Premises liability laws usually apply to cases where a restaurant has a slippery floor, unsafe electrical wiring, damaged stairs, or other conditions that result in slip and falls, burn injuries, or other physical harm.

Yet one of the most important responsibilities a restaurant has involves  maintain a clean kitchen and ensuring food prepared and served to patrons is safe. When a restaurant fails to do this and serves tainted food, victims may file a personal injury claim. Victims could argue negligence under premises liability laws, or make other legal arguments, including strict liability under product liability rules. Such cases can often be extremely complicated. An injury attorney can help determine if premises liability laws apply to a plaintiff’s case and they can recover compensation after getting food poisoning.

Responsibility for Risks to Patrons Under Premises Liability Laws

Suing a restaurant for harming a customer can often be a challenge. Consumers need to demonstrate that a restaurant’s dangerous conditions were the direct cause of harm. If the consumer has any leftover food from the restaurant, this can go a long way towards helping the victim show the restaurant was responsible for his illness. The food can be tested for pathogens like salmonella and E. Coli and other things likely to make people sick.

Pathogenic bacteria (the kind of bacteria leading to food poisoning) have specific fingerprints that can be obtained through pulsed-field gel electrophoreses (PFGE).  If multiple people ate at a particular restaurant and all got sick, the bacteria might have the same fingerprint. This can be an indicator the restaurant is the site of an outbreak caused by contaminated food.

If the restaurant served tainted food, it is important to determine if the restaurant should be held responsible for resulting harm. When applicable, product liability laws will impose strict liability on a defendant responsible for harming victims. However, in most cases, including premises liability claims, there needs to be evidence that the defendant (the restaurant) acted negligently, resulting in injuries to restaurant patrons. Victims made sick by food poisoning must assess available evidence and determine if they can prove a restaurant failed to take steps to keep them safe. If the restaurant was derelict in its duty, a plaintiff might have a strong premises liability claim and be able to recover financial losses.

Product liability claim vs. premises liability claim – what is difference?

Product liability claims, as opposed to premises liability claims, are usually brought against food manufacturers rather than restaurants. People who sell food to consumers in grocery stores and in major retail establishments are no different than other product manufacturers that are held strictly liable if they fail to ensure they don’t release hazardous items for sale.

A civil lawsuit can require the food manufacturer to pay the victims who were hurt if hazardous items find their way onto store shelves.  In some rare cases, CEOs and organizations can even be held criminally responsible for tainted food. The CEO of a peanut company, for example, was found guilty of 71 criminal counts, including conspiracy and wire fraud related to a salmonella outbreak in 2008 and 2009, which he allegedly tried to hide from consumers by using falsified lab results. CNBC reports prosecutors are seeking a sentence of life in prison.

While criminal cases are unlikely to occur due to restaurant food poisoning, you should explore the possibility of a civil claim under premises liability laws or other tort laws if a restaurant makes you sick. Injuries caused by tainted food can result in time lost at work, medical bills and other significant expenses.

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